A seal rescue and rehab facility is set to be established in a North East town after a 30-year lease was signed today (January 31).

PD Ports, the Tees and Hartlepool port authority, have signed the lease for the old lifeboat station at South Gare, Redcar, to Teesmouth Seal Conservation Trust (TSCT) - a new charity set up to help seals around the Tees Estuary.

The lease – set at a token £100 a year - will see the unused building renovated into the Teesmouth Seal Rescue and Coastal Conservation Centre - the first dedicated welfare and rehabilitation facility for seals and coastal conservation in the region.

Darlington and Stockton Times: David Newell Chairman of Teesmouth Seal Conservation Trust Credit: SARAH CALDECOTT

David Newell, 60, chairman of TSCT, said it was important to have such a facility in the area, with some of the closest other rescue centres located much further down the coast in Scarborough and Whitby.

He said: “There isn’t anything in this area and the seal rehabilitation facilities are fairly low [in] numbers.

“We’ve probably got around seven to ten spaces for seals in the whole of the North East, so it’s really crucial that we have something close by so seals don’t have to be transported long distances, and most of the existing rehabilitation centres are filled really early in the season.

“It will save the majority of the seals that wash up onto our shores. It just opens up that opportunity to treat seals that may have been not able to be treated previously.

“There’s an element of an increase in seal numbers across the country needing rescue, some of that’s linked to changes in our weather conditions, and that does affect very young seals as well.

“Diseases like mouth rot have an impact on our seals, so the demand for seal rehabilitation has increased dramatically as well.

“We are enormously grateful for all the help that we have received so far and for this important collaboration with PD Ports. We are confident that public and industry support for our crucial work will continue to grow.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: PD Ports hand the lease of the old Lifeboat Station at South Gare to to Teesmouth Seal Conservation

He said the rehabilitation centre will likely be able to house 15 seals at any given time – and believes it will be able to hold 30 to 50 over the course of a year.

He said he believes the refurbishment will cost between £80,000 to £90,000, and added building work is expected to be completed by early next year - barring any unforeseen circumstances.

Mr Newell added people can find the group by social media or on their website to speak with the trust about their work or make a donation.

The harbour seal population, monitored by the Industry and Nature Conservation Association (INCA), currently sits at 200 seals with 36 pups being born in 2022.

The seals often find themselves vulnerable due to diseases such as mouth rot, pups being separated from their mothers, attacks by dogs on beaches, entanglement in fishing gear, starvation and other hazards.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Harbour seals in the Tees have been blighted by a disease known as mouth rotHarbour seals in the Tees have been blighted by a disease known as mouth rot (Image: PD PORTS)

The TSCT has been set up to provide care and welfare work to sick, orphaned, and injured seals with help from public donations, grants, and contributions from industry.

It is working alongside Teesside University, local vets, and the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) to manage, understand, and combat mouth rot disease.

Frans Calje, chief executive officer of PD Ports, said he was delighted to see the old lifeboat station take on a new purpose, and added they were happy to find the “missing link” in the TSCT to bring the building back to life.

He said: “It is very pleasing to see the disused lifeboat station being repurposed to focus on seal and coastal conservation.

“We have really been focusing on the marine ecosystem for quite a while now.

“It seems fitting to us at PD Ports that a building with such a history of coastal rescue should now have a future in rescuing marine animals.

“As a company operating in such an environmentally sensitive area, we are excited to be providing support for this work through the lease of the old lifeboat station on our private land at the South Gare breakwater, to Teesmouth Seal Conservation Trust.

“One of the things to remember in any of this is that we need to learn to live within complete symbiosis with the environment that we’re part of. You just can’t neglect what’s out there.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: PD Ports hand the lease of the old Lifeboat Station at South Gare to to Teesmouth Seal Conservation

The new charity was created with help from Teesside Environmental Trust (TET).

Mr Calje added PD Ports are attempting to re-establish a seagrass meadow in the Tees Estuary alongside the Tees Rivers Trust, while also helping to preserve and grow a “thriving” seal population.

Trust chairman David Kitchen said: “We received a presentation from seal enthusiast Daniel Fox, and we quickly saw that there was a problem with the Teesmouth seals, particularly in the face of the terrible mouth rot disease.

“It became TET’s ambition to help and so we have seed-funded the formation of Teesmouth Seal Conservation Trust.

“This new charity has, as its core mission, the care of the Teesmouth seals and will become an important organisation giving help to seals close to their point of need. I am pleased to see that Daniel now is one of its founding trustees.”

Vicky Ward, project manager for the Tees Estuary Recovering Nature (TERN) project at Natural England, the government body that ensures this protection is enforced, said: “The exciting news of a new seal hospital on the Tees, spearheaded by the Teesmouth Seal Conservation Trust, is a brilliant development for our region, and for our cherished common (harbour) seals and the growing population of grey seals in the Tees Estuary.

“The dedicated seal hospital will play a key role in safeguarding our local seals. The TERN project is delighted to support both the trust and the new seal hospital in helping our beloved local seals thrive.”

The Environment Agency’s Graeme Hull, Tees catchment co-ordinator, said they welcome the work of TSCT which contributes to their grander vision of restoring habitats.

Dr Jamie Bojko, an associate professor in disease ecology at Teesside University and the National Horizons Centre, said they hope to develop rapid tests soon to detect mouth rot.

He added the seals in the Tees seem to be at lower risk, but are common elsewhere.

TSCT has said the increased seal population will not negatively affect the levels of fish in local waters, and said they wish to work with those involved in coastal conservation to ensure the Teesmouth is “flourishing.”

Mr Newell said: “Both the local fishermen and our charity want the same thing: a coastline rich in fish for both seals and fishermen to enjoy. Marine ecology works in such a way that top predators like seals cannot remove an entire fish stock as they would of course, starve to death if they did.

“Healthy populations of seals can only live alongside healthy populations of fish. We wish to work with others involved in coastal conservation to ensure that the sea around Teesmouth is flourishing.”

The new facility at South Gare will include a meeting room, which will be made available as a place where organisations and local groups with an interest in wildlife conservation can meet and network.